Interview with Amanda Darrington
So there we were, onboard the newly Royal Amplified Independence of the Seas, enveloped in the high backed chairs of ‘Fuel’ which are normally reserved for teenagers as one of the multiple childrens clubs onboard! Across from us was Royal Caribbean’s Head of Sales for UK & Ireland Amanda Darrington. We could have opened with any question…. ‘Cheesecake?’ she said quizzically, looking confused? ‘Yes’ I said, ‘We know cheesecake is important to you, what is your favourite flavour?’
Welcome to the Cruise Room Ireland...we always want to do things differently!!
Naturally, with such an opportunity we grilled Amanda on all things Royal and all things cruise. After all, it’s not every day you get to interview a cruise lines Head of Sales for UK & Ireland! Amanda joined Royal a little over a year ago from Funway ( a non cruise role) and what a year to be involved. April saw the launch of the world's biggest ship, Symphony of the Seas. Late last year saw Royal pick up not 1 but 2 gongs in the Irish Travel Industry awards and here we were sitting on the newly revitalised Independence of the Seas!
‘Playmakers’ was the answer to ‘What was your favourite addition to the newly launched Independence of the Seas?’ and it was hard to disagree. Although the likes of Skypad and Laser Tag for example are going to be great fun it’s the likes of Playmakers that guests will return to day after day, night after night in our opinion. It’s a hive of activity; tons of screens showing a range of sports, people hustling each other at the pool tables, crew serving up tempting looking nachos and sliders and the bartenders keeping the drinks flowing…with it being a very lively sports bar it also appeals to a slightly different customer than any other space onboard the fleet - definitely one for the Mum’s and Dad’s and a little escapism.
The Irish Market
After briefly discussing all we loved about the new $100 million investment of our beloved ‘Indy’ we turned the conversation towards the growth of cruise, the challenges and most importantly for us the Irish market. Now, as you all know we’re particularly excited about the home porting of Celebrity Cruises in 2018 & 2019 with Princess Cruises also planning 11 sailings for 2019. However, for now, Royal will not be joining them! ‘There’s nothing planned at the moment’ says Amanda, ‘nothing on the horizon for the next couple of years though we’re always looking at the market and we can influence the locations of ships in some way so if there was an opportunity!’ We did however not let it rest and insisted that Irish cruisers are ready and willing to part with their cash for a 10-14 night cruise from Ireland to the Mediterranean!! ‘That's good to know’ was the response with a smile! Maybe one day, maybe one day! (We’ll keep banging on about it anyway!)
The Irish market however is hugely important to Royal Caribbean and Amanda was keen to stress that. 'It’s a very loyal market, a market that loves Europe and the Caribbean and in particular love Oasis Class with 25% of all Royal cruises sold here on Oasis class ships (Oasis, Allure, Harmony and Symphony are Oasis class ships with Symphony selling incredibly well since launch). There is also the recognition that we Irish are more than happy to spend the right amount of money BUT we want value for money and we’re different to the UK market, we want slightly different things and Royal are aware of that knowing for example that irish cruisers tend to prefer drinks packages to be included in their package. (Don’t forget our own poll showed 80% of you would include a drinks package). The bottom line is that Irish cruisers want the best holiday you can possibly get and we can’t argue with that.
Given the popularity of Oasis class and size of ship you can expect Royal to deliver more. Although nothing is yet known about Spectrum of the Seas (Quantum Ultra Class) or the recently announced Icon class ships ('it’s on a need to know basis and we (Royal sales team) don’t need to know - it’s on lockdown!') you can expect these ships to have a lot of similarities, including size, to Oasis class ships. 'With our newer ships the ship is the destination and Oasis class ships are giving us the biggest customer satisfaction scores. It's where we put everything anyone can want from their holiday into one place. It doesn’t rule out smaller ships, if that's what the research tells us is needed, but at the moment no smaller ships on the horizon'
Differentiation between cruise lines?
'We’re already doing it' says Amanda proudly when questioned about how Royal will differentiate from the rest of the market. With the ship being the destination, and given the forthcoming investment in Royals brand new Perfect Day Island Collection Royal are confident they stand out from the market, even with a record number of new ships and even new cruise lines like Virgin Voyages taking to the water in coming months and years. 'We are Royal, we’re forever evolving, trying to innovate in terms of the ships and technologies, investing in destinations like CocoCay with more to come like that, immersing you in the Royal brand, so we’re already ahead of the game in that respect.’ Similarly there are no concerns when it comes to the question of the market being flooded with beds to fill with a remarkable statistic...
'When you look at total passenger numbers cruising is still only a small percentage and there’s definitely more to go for; I was once told that even if every ship was full in one night - we wouldn’t fill every bed in Las Vegas so there is definitely opportunity.' Amanda is well placed to comment having come from a non cruising background herself! “What was really interesting for me when I went onboard Symphony was I took some non-cruise agents on board to see what it looked like and it blew them away, in fact they were telling me “I totally get this now, this is something we wouldn’t have thought you could deliver”. It’s really important to get people onboard and even for a day it gives you a flavour and the vibe and if someone walked onboard Independence tomorrow I’d have every confidence that they would absolutely adore the vibe, the feel, everything!’ Amanda...we couldn’t agree more!!
While the Las Vegas statistic was startling the feeling that there’s so much potential is something we definitely feel too at the The Cruise Room Ireland. In fact it’s one of the main reasons for us to launch! There are so many out there who have yet to discover the joy of cruising and it’s our job to open their eyes, to try and get more and more people onboard - cruising IS only going to get bigger and it really is time to get onboard...
OH! We nearly forgot! Classic New York Cheesecake is Amanda’s favourite flavour and what's more apparently the Chops Grille cheesecake is better than the exclusive suite only Coastal Kitchen cheesecake!! Given Amanda’s feedback (and others, but we’d like to think it’s definitely Amanda's influence) it may even be changed...
Well...sure don’t we get all the exclusives...you heard it here first!! ;-)